The Biden Administration has upheld federal decisions to reduce Alaska drilling projects in the Arctic, and Reuters had a story in the last day that the President would reverse the previous administration’s policy to open up land for drilling projects. Here’s more about the decision from that Reuters report:
The U.S. Department of the Interior said it will scrap the Trump administration’s decision that authorized expanded leasing and development in the National Petroleum Reserve in Alaska, or NPR-A. Even though Trump took several steps to try to boost oil-and-gas development in Alaska, production in the state fell to a 43-year low in 2020, as drillers focus their attention in Texas and other lower 48 states.
Official notice of the change will come in a notice to be filed on Monday in federal court in Alaska, the Bureau of Land Management (BLM), a division of Department of the Interior, said in a statement.
“This decision reflects the Biden-Harris administration’s priority of reviewing existing oil and gas programs to ensure balance on America’s public lands and waters to benefit current and future generations,” it said.
The threat to critical habitat for caribou and other wildlife has been widely condemned by environmentalists, conservation groups and the hunting community.
But this latest round was praised by some of those same groups like Backcountry Hunters and Anglers, which released the following statement:
Administration Move to Conserve Arctic Reserve Draws Praise from BHA
However, BHA urges the administration to take additional action to protect critical wildlife habitat, including some of the most important waterfowl nesting areas in the world
MISSOULA, Mont. – Backcountry Hunters & Anglers today commended a move by the Biden administration to prohibit oil and gas development on critical public lands and waters in Alaska’s Arctic, while also urging the administration to coordinate with Congress to permanently conserve special areas of fish and wildlife habitat.
The Bureau of Land Management-promulgated action would reverse a 2019 effort by the Trump administration to remove protections from millions of acres in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska including the Teshekpuk Lake Special Area and other previously protected lands, and instead return to the previous management plan that still permits drilling in more than half of the reserve’s 23 million acres.
The single-largest tract of public land in the nation, the Arctic reserve lies on Alaska’s North Slope, bordering the Chukchi Sea to the west and the Beaufort Sea to the north. It is home to a wide diversity of wildlife, including the Western Arctic and Teshekpuk Lake caribou herds, grizzly bears and wolves, as well as fish ranging from Dolly Varden and arctic char to lake trout and northern pike.
The region also provides summer nesting habitat relied upon by waterfowl all over the world. The reserve’s Teshekpuk Lake Special Area plays a critical role for tens of thousands of greater white-fronted geese, Pacific black brant, cackling geese and snow geese. Additional species of waterfowl that nest in the region and migrate to North America’s flyways include all four species of eiders, tundra swans, wigeon, pintail, longtail duck, canvasback, teal and merganser.
The Alaska chapter of BHA voiced support for the BLM decision while reiterating that additional action to conserve the region is overdue.
“Alaska BHA is pleased to see important protections in this area of the Arctic restored,” said Jacob Mannix, Alaska chapter coordinator. “We’re Alaskans; we live here. We understand the importance of some level of responsible development, but we also greatly value our wildlife and will continue to advocate for protections for critically important areas like Teshekpuk Lake.”
“No matter where you call home in North America, if you hunt waterfowl, you could be decoying birds that spent their summer nesting and raising their young on wetlands in Alaska’s Arctic,” said BHA President and CEO Land Tawney.
“Backcountry Hunters & Anglers believes that these remote reaches of northern Alaska must be conserved for the sake of innumerable species of game and non-game mammals, birds and fish,” Tawney stated. “We urge our decision-makers to heed the best scientific evidence available and to err on the side of caution when it comes to proposed development in Alaska’s Arctic regions. While the administration deserves our thanks for its foresighted action, much more work remains to be done to secure the long-term future of these irreplaceable lands and waters – and to sustain the once-in-a-lifetime hunting and fishing adventures they represent.”
Alaska’s two Senators, Dan Sullivan and Lisa Murkowski, plus Rep. Don Young, all Republicans, weren’t as complimentary of the decision. They released the following comments via Murkowski’s website:
U.S. Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan and Congressman Don Young, all R-Alaska, issued the following statements after the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) signaled that it plans to close millions of additional acres in the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska to responsible resource development.
“With zero analysis or consultation with Alaskans, the Biden administration has decided to upend the NPR-A’s current management plan to return to an outdated policy that is worse for our state’s economy, worse for our nation’s energy security, and contrary to federal law,” Senator Murkowski said. “BLM claims a need for greater ‘balance’ in managing this area, but fails to realize that balance is what will be lost through this move. This is a petroleum reserve, specifically designated for energy development, located within a state that already has tens of millions of acres of parks, refuges, and federal wilderness. The current management plan was carefully crafted to protect the reserve’s most sensitive areas and includes numerous safeguards for responsible development. Sweeping restrictions like this – which are being imposed even as the Biden administration implores OPEC+ to produce more oil – demonstrate everything that is wrong with its energy policies.”
“There they go again. Yesterday it was 20 executive actions from the Biden administration targeting our state’s economic opportunities and future, today it’s 21. No state in the country has been singled out like Alaska with such a destructive war on our working families, which hits our Alaska Native communities particularly hard,” said Senator Sullivan. “Moving to revert back to the 2013 Obama administration version, which removes roughly fifty percent of the NPRA from oil and gas development, will hurt Alaska’s economic future, our nation’s security, and likely violates federal law. Reverting back to the 2013 management plan is not only arbitrary and contrary to good science, it will be harmful to the very people and issues the Biden administration purports to care most about—indigenous communities, and racial and environmental equity. Instead, the Biden White House is taking its orders from radical extreme environmental groups who care nothing about Alaskans. I will continue to fight this war on Alaska’s workers and economy with everything I’ve got.”
“For years, the NPR-A has been crucial to providing affordable energy to families across our country. This move by the Biden Administration is not only insulting to the hardworking men and women on the North Slope, but also extremely foolish. Gas prices around the nation are soaring; why then would President Biden and the BLM want to kneecap our domestic production, thereby emboldening our oil-producing adversaries overseas? This decision is yet another insult among a series of anti-Alaska actions taken by this Administration. By reverting to the 2013 IAP, BLM is attempting to shut down almost 50% of the NPR-A – that’s over 11 million acres. To put this in perspective, the President’s home state of Delaware could fit in this part of the NPR-A about seven times over. No state should be subject to such a heavy-handed decision, and certainly not Alaska. Our state has proven that conservation and energy development can go hand in hand. Despite this, the Administration continues working to stifle American energy production and economic opportunity in Alaska,” said Congressman Young. “This reversion, championed by bureaucrats thousands of miles away from the NPR-A, is dead wrong. I condemn it and call on President Biden to end his Administration’s attacks on Alaska’s economy and way of life.”
The Biden administration announced yesterday that it plans to use Alternative A – the “No Action Alternative” from the NPR-A’s 2020 Integrated Activity Plan (IAP) as its preferred alternative to manage the reserve. This would close approximately half of the surface acreage of the reserve, which is roughly the size of Indiana, to energy leasing.
The Alaska delegation strongly supported the previous administration’s decision to re-evaluate and revise the NPR-A’s IAP. That process, which concluded in early 2021, resulted in a management plan that BLM itself described as including “important safeguards for wildlife and sensitive resources, while allowing for responsible oil and gas leasing across 18.6 million acres of the NPR-A. These safeguards include no surface occupancy, controlled surface use, timing limitations and provide for new and emerging technologies to access subsurface resources while maintaining important surface values.” The preferred alternative selected under the early 2021 IAP kept more than four million acres of the NPR-A closed to leasing and represented a suitable balance for managing the reserve.
BLM administers the NPR-A under the Naval Petroleum Reserves Production Act and other federal laws. The U.S. Geological Survey estimates the 23 million-acre region on the western North Slope – roughly the size of the state of Indiana – contains 8.7 billion barrels of undiscovered, technically recoverable oil.
Some other social media reaction: